AIDS 2010, the 18th International AIDS Conference being held in Vienna later this year, will focus on marginalised groups living with the disease, such as injecting drug users in Eastern Europe, organisers said Wednesday.
"AIDS 2010 will be the conference for people without a voice," the head of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, told a press briefing here.
"The rapidly growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in Eastern Europe fuelled primarily by unsafe injecting drug use are topics under the spotlight at AIDS 2010," to be held in Vienna in July 18-23, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and UNAIDS said in a joint statement.
By holding the conference in the Austrian capital, the organisers wanted to highlight the situation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, regions experiencing fast growing epidemics largely through unsafe injecting drug use.
Vienna is not only the headquarters for key UN agencies involved in fighting drugs, but also a "gateway" to eastern Europe and central Asia, said Robin Gorna, head of the International AIDS Society.
An estimated 1.5 million people are living with HIV in these regions. And sharing needles and injection equipment is thought to be three times more likely to transmit HIV than sexual intercourse.
"To break the trajectory of the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe, we must stop new infections among injecting drug users and their partners," said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe.
"People using drugs have a right to access the best possible options for prevention, care and treatment."
"We can and must reverse the HIV epidemic, first of all by preventing the spread of drug use, and then by providing treatment to addicts. In this comprehensive programme, HIV-targeted measures include providing clean injecting equipment, opioid substitution, and antiretroviral therapy," said UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa.
Statistics from 2007 show that an estimated 33.2 million people were living with HIV around the world but the number of people newly infected with HIV, after peaking in 1996, had declined to 2.7 million by 2007.
However, infection rates are continuing to rise in some parts of the world, especially Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Here, HIV prevalence has almost doubled since 2001.